Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 957
Roy Johnson: a friend from Denver who lives in San Francisco.
Dorothy: Roy’s wife
Marie: a friend who lives in San Francisco with her little daughter
In 1949, Sal travels to Denver again. He gets a job at the fruit market, where he works long, exhausting hours. At night, he walks the streets of Denver’s lively black and Mexican neighborhoods, wishing he were anything but a disillusioned “white man.”
Sal becomes involved with a wealthy young woman. She gives him a hundred dollars for travel money because she realizes he’s not happy. Sal leaves for San Francisco again, and at the Colorado/Utah border, Sal tells us he saw God in the sky “in the form of huge gold sunburning clouds over the desert.”
Sal arrives in San Francisco and knocks on Dean’s door at two o’clock in the morning. Dean is living with Camille in a cozy little house, but they are having a difficult time. Camille is expecting their second baby; she doesn’t want Dean to go out carousing anymore, and she cries when Sal shows up.
Dean tells Sal that for months he was obsessed with Marylou and would follow her around San Francisco, spying on her when she was sleeping with other men. Finally, he brought her a gun and asked her to kill him, but she refused. At one point, while they were arguing, Dean tried to punch her, but his fist glanced off her head and he broke his thumb. The bone was not set properly and became infected, leading to chronic osteomyelitis. Now Dean must wear a huge bandage on his hand, with his thumb jutting into the air. He can’t perform any kind of manual labor and Camille has to support the family.
As soon as Sal arrives, Dean and Camille have a huge fight. She throws him out of the house with Sal. Dean and Sal struggle down the street with their suitcases and a large trunk. Sal thinks that Dean no longer cares about anything, but at the same time cares about everything in principle. He belonged to the world, Sal says, and there was nothing he could do about it.
Sal invites Dean to come to New York with him and then suggests they go to Italy together. Sal, who has by now had one book published, assures Dean he can get money from his publisher. Dean, however, gives Sal a long, wary look until he realizes that Sal actually cares about him. Sal says he is willing to make a commitment to Dean. They go off on a cable car together.
Sal and Dean decide to stay in San Francisco for two days of “kicks” before they leave for New York. They arrange to meet their friend, Roy Johnson, who has a car and can drive them around. Roy’s wife, Dorothy, is angry at Roy for going out with Sal and Dean.
They visit Galatea and learn that Ed Dunkel has taken off again, this time with Tommy Snark. Galatea still loves Ed, though, and is sure he will come back to her. However she is angry at Dean and berates him for being so irresponsible. In response, Dean just giggles. Sal goes to Dean’s defense. He thinks of Dean as the “Idiot” saint, and the “HOLY GOOF” of their group. “He was BEAT—the root, the soul of Beatific.” Sal tells us that all Dean has to look forward to is the “ragged and ecstatic joy of pure being.”
In Denver, Sal roams through the streets feeling very much out of place. He envies and idealizes the black and Hispanic people he sees in the different neighborhoods and longs for the kind of close fellowship they seem to enjoy. As usual, Sal is at odds with his place in society. He is, almost literally, uncomfortable in his own skin.
Despite his disdain for convention, however, Sal is willing to accept money from his wealthy girlfriend in order to go to San Francisco. Once again, the pull of the road takes precedence over other factors in his decisions. His girlfriend just wants him to be happy, so she gives him a hundred dollars. Sal’s acceptance of the cash is a bow to the society he finds so difficult to endure and is similar to the situation on his first trip when he kept asking his aunt for money. At this point, Sal finds it easier to rebel against the norm when he doesn’t have to support himself.
Sal arrives in San Francisco, and this time he turns the tables on Dean. He shows up at Dean’s house and immediately disrupts his home life. With each trip, Sal grows and becomes more confident, and more willing to take chances. Now it is Dean who must deal with the conflict between his own relatively stable family situation and the lure of the road, adventure, and self-discovery. Once again, he throws away his security to go off on another adventure.
With Sal playing the role Dean usually takes, it appears that Sal’s relationship with Dean is becoming more equal. This issue is further explored when Sal makes his commitment to Dean. Sal wants to stick with Dean, travel with him, and support him. While Dean is very close to Sal, he finds it difficult to trust anyone completely. A hustler himself, Dean is always looking for the con game, even if it is an emotional one. But Sal proves himself, defending Dean when he is lambasted by Galatea and the other women. Sal’s understanding of Dean as a “HOLY GOOF” reveals his willingness to accept Dean, no matter what he does.
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